Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Times: Updated: Cohabitation Bill will not be published before referendum - PM

Friday, May 13, 2011, 10:57

Photo: Jason Borg

(Adds afternoon press conference)

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has declined a request by the Divorce Movement for publication of the Cohabitation Bill prior to the May 28 referendum on divorce.

During a meeting between Dr Gonzi and the movement at the PN headquarters in Pieta, Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando argued that the bill should be made public before the referendum to give the people the possibility to scrutinise it and know their options before casting their vote.

But Dr Gonzi did not agree and said that a debate on the cohabitation bill before the referendum could divert the issue.

He said that until now, Malta had an institution of permanent marriages.

In the referendum, people had to choose between retaining such marriage or opting for four-year ones. This, he said, had nothing to do with cohabitation, which could also be between brothers and sisters.

The country, the Prime Minister said, needed a law which regulated cohabitation, independently of whether or not divorce was introduced.

Former Nationalist minister Michael Falzon said that with a cohabitation law, the country would be creating a two-tiered society – of people in a real marriage and those who were cohabitating.

He stressed that the Divorce Movement was not asking people to chose between strong and broken families.

"We believe the family is the basis of Maltese society. But a cohabitation law will not bring order to society."

Mr Falzon said he could not understand what the state was gaining from making people whose marriage would have broken down cohabit rather than remarry.

Moreover, how could one give cohabitation rights to someone who was legally still bound to another person.

This would be the case without divorce.

Cohabitation without divorce, he argued, institutionalised disorder in society.

In a news conference in the afternoon, Movement head Deborah Schembri said that according to a study by the university published last Malta, people who opted to remarry were younger.

30.2 per cent of respondents who were 40 or younger said they would like to remarry to regularise their situation.

She also stressed that the cohabitation law should follow that on divorce.

Dr Schembri doubled whether the law on cohabitation would apply to people who were separated. This was because there existed legal obligations, such as faithfulness, which had to continue being respected even after separation.

So a cohabitation act involving separated souples would bring the situation in Malta very close to a bigamous one.

Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando said that this was a moral dilemma and he expected the movement against divorce to also appeal to the government to publish the bill on cohabitation.

He stressed that it was more correct to divorce, rather than formalise cohabitation.

He noted that by 2015, there will be 35,000 individuals who would have gone through a broken marriage.

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